For the first time since I was four years old, I’m moving. I’ll be starting school in September in a city on the other side of the country, which means that instead of shoving unused items into the nether regions of our basement, I actually have to go through my stuff and decide what to pack up and ship, and what to get rid of. While I can part with skirts that haven’t fit in years, or a bouquet of dried roses from some forgotten occasion, I am dreading the prospect of trimming my bookshelf. From history textbooks to photography manuals, poetry books to dictionaries, the letters of T.S. Eliot to travel guides, I want to keep them all.
So why this covetous relationship with books? I’m pretty sure I can find a copy of the complete works of John Milton at a library in Montreal, and considering I’ve never once read through the library discard, why do I want to keep it so much? I think it’s hard to overemphasize the relationship we develop with books. While I may not read The Inheritance of Loss or A Humument on a regular basis, it’s comforting to see them there on the shelf. Each title reminds me of a different experience—either the class where I read the text, the person who gave me the book, or the effect the contents of the book had on my life. They stand in a row almost like a series of family snapshots, each a reminder of an important moment in my life.
I am certainly not the first person to fetishize my book collection. The World of the Book by Des Cowley and Clare Williamson is a well researched and fantastically well designed chronicle of our long and varied obsession with books. The World of the Book is arranged thematically, covering everything from illuminated manuscripts to comic books, addressing everything from the relationship of books and imagination to modernist experimentation. Every page of the book is decorated with vivid, striking images of the texts being discussed. In this way, The World of the Book gives a spectacular tour of the world’s library, letting you paw at a first edition of Ulysses, and then flip through a collection of books from 17th century Japan. The World of the Book is equally well written, with summaries of historical eras and events that are interesting and full of surprises, even if you are familiar with the era or subject being discussed. While I am still only half way through the 247 page volume, I am looking forward to reading this one through to the other cover. This is a problem since the book is on loan from the university library, so if I don’t finish it before I move, I may have to buy a copy and cart it along with all the other books on my shelf. If there’s anything The World of the Book has taught me, it’s that that’s okay.